From the moment each student-athlete steps on campus for the first day of their freshman year, a clock starts ticking down. They each have four years to make their mark – on the court, course, field, pool – not to mention in the classroom, chapel, dorm room, sorority or fraternity house and finally, in a job or graduate school interview room. So for Albion College’s student-athletes to take a total of 3,375 hours of this academic year out of their precious time to give back through a variety of community service events, it must be important to them.
“Community service, such as the clinics and special Olympics, doesn't just benefit the participants that Albion athletes interact with. If student athletes go into the gym or on the field with an open mind and willing to learn from these experiences, they will leave better as better people and better athletes,” said Jalyn Ingalls, president of Albion’s SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee).
Albion’s student-athletes all completed multiple community service events throughout the year of all sorts. The largest of all was the SAAC sponsored free kids clinics that each varsity sport hosted. The clinics meant that kids from 4-11 years old could get free instruction from Albion’s student-athletes and coaches in each of the sports Albion offers for one Saturday. The clinics included track and field, lacrosse, tennis, golf, swimming, football, soccer, basketball, volleyball and softball and baseball. Hosting more than 800 kids for all of the clinics combined, Albion’s student-athletes were able to reach so many kids in the surrounding communities and enrich their lives. Many of the local kids came to each clinic.
“The number of kids we reached and the number of hours of community service that our athletes put in impresses me, and it shows our commitment to the community here at Albion College,” said Melissa Walton, Senior Associate Athletic Director and advisor for SAAC.
The student-athletes enjoy the clinics as a way to reach out to kids and also as a way to get back in touch with the joy of simply playing their sport, rather than getting lost in the grind of NCAA competition.
Emily DeWaters, sophomore on the women’s basketball team from Richland, Mich., feels the learning goes both ways in the clinics.
"It is always a great experience for our teams to take time to become the teachers instead of the students, it helps us appreciate the game more."
But the free clinics are only one of the ways that Albion’s student-athletes gave back to the community throughout the year. Each sport came up with unique ways give back, depending on the interests of each team, and in some cases, unique opportunities that provided an inspiration to pitch in.
After a dramatic microburst of winds up to 80 mph on campus on September 11th, 2013 caused campus to be evacuated, the women’s soccer team was forced to stay in a nearby hotel awaiting upcoming games. Rather than sit idly by, the student-athletes and coaches came back to campus to assist in the mammoth cleanup effort necessary to get campus back to normal. They cleared away underbrush, collected trash, swept sidewalks – all while dodging broken glass and downed tree limbs.
Eric Scott, Albion’s women’s soccer coach, was impressed with the dedication.
“I gave them the day off, and a few of our leaders came to me asking if we could go back to campus to help clean up. How do you say no to that? I was extremely proud not only as a coach, but as an alum that our school is producing these type of student-athletes."
There wouldn’t be enough room to highlight every community service event that each team participated or organized, but suffice it to say dedicated athletes found unique opportunities to give back.
Men’s lacrosse had their dedication to philanthropy tested in several ways by choosing to donate to the organization Wigs for Kids, a group that provides supplemental wigs for children that have lost hair due to the side-effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Seven student-athletes grew out their hair for more than a year in anticipation of the donation, and fought through the thick humidity of summer to have their long flowing locks for the donation in the fall.
Coach Jake DeCola said, "For roughly two years, these Albion student-athletes kept long hair and fought the temptation to cut it off in the middle of summer. They remembered their commitment to the project and they kept on going – or growing."
Each of the sports and SAAC collaborated on the Winter Carnival, a free-to-the-public event that offered games for kids, prizes and tons of free food, including sno-cones, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and cotton candy. There was a station for the kids to build their own tree ornament, dozens of unique games like a putting challenge and football toss, and probably the biggest draw, a North Pole where kids could have their picture taken with Santa.
“There will be more than 400 community service hours donated by student-athletes in putting on the Winter Carnival alone,” said Ingalls.
In total, the 3,375 hours donated by Albion’s student-athletes have added up to a lot of good – for lots of different parts of the community. Albion College and it’s student-athletes plan on continuing their strong dedication to community service, and are exploring even more ways to make a difference in the future.